April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse is a hidden epidemic and a conversation that many people are uncomfortable discussing. This month we will be inundated with material about recognizing the signs of child abuse. However, to recognize the signs and do nothing about it serves no good purpose.
Three million reports of child abuse are made each year. More importantly five children die each day in our country as a result of abuse. Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across all ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, and at all levels of education. The abuse could be neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological maltreatment, medical neglect, etc.
Military children can be even more at risk for child abuse and neglect because of many stressors their parents are facing. For example, multiple deployments, stressful relocations, financial difficulties, separations and divorce. Children are defenseless and need adult protection.
Adults know they should report abuse and neglect, but sometimes they do not do so. Let's examine five reasons why adults don't report child abuse and neglect, and dispels some myths associated with each.
As a result, you are paralyzed and prone to second-guess yourself. You decide to work very hard to forget about what you witnessed. This is a normal response when you observe something that makes you uncomfortable. Remember it's a child who needs your protection. Don't second-guess what you just saw and don't minimize it.
1. You're shocked and frightened by what you see or what you hear.
2. You doubt yourself and think you are the one who is overreacting. Every day we doubt ourselves about something. Maybe you are overreacting, but then maybe you're not. You could be saving a child. Don't worry about overreacting, make a report.
3. You think "It's not my child so it's none of my business, I shouldn't judge others." Every child is our business if it involves child abuse and neglect. Adults will happily take part in the success of every child, but we are distant when it involves protecting a child.
4. You think "If I make a report I won't be able to remain anonymous." You fear retaliation, which is a very normal and valid concern. However, you can absolutely remain anonymous. If you make the report you will be asked some information about the child and the person who you believed did something inappropriate or abusive. The more information you have, the better. For example, names, addresses, etc. Make the report and Child Protective Services will determine if they will follow through on the report. You have done your job.
5. You think, "Only professionals can handle this." Anyone can observe inappropriate behavior done to a child by an adult -- the person who observes the behavior should report the behavior. Everyone is a mandatory reporter. Making a report allows professionals to assess the event and make the determination to open a case that can involve police intervention, additional family services to provide support, etc.
Don't close your eyes and ears to child abuse. Use this number to speak to a crisis counselor and to make a report 24/7: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). If you live on base you can start by speaking to someone in the family services office and they can provide further direction (for example, Social Work Services, Fleet and Family Service, or Marine and Family Services).
Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion...
Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, is married to an active-duty Soldier and has three sons. She has a Master's of Science in Social Work from the University of Louisville, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and currently works as a therapist with military servicemembers and their families. She provides services for a wide array of concerns such as combat stress, PTSD, couples and marital problems, depression, grief and loss, stress and coping.
Ms. Vicki also writes an advice column "Dear Ms. Vicki" that appears in the Washington Times, the Fort Campbell Courier and the Heidelberg Herald Post. Ms. Vicki also hosts an internet radio show and blogs on her community site with the Washington Times. If you want to ask Ms. Vicki for advice about your military life, please email her at AskMsVicki@military-inc.com.
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